Female sex hormones, or sex steroids, play vital roles in sexual development, reproduction, and general health. Sex hormone levels change over time, but some of the most significant changes happen during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause.
Types of Female Hormones
The two main female sex hormones are estrogen and progesterone. Although testosterone is considered a male hormone, females also produce and need a small amount of this, too.
Estrogen is the major female hormone. The lion’s share comes from the ovaries, but small amounts are produced in the adrenal glands and fat cells. During pregnancy, the placenta also makes estrogen.
Estrogen plays a big role in reproductive and sexual development, including :
Estrogen also affects the :
• Cardiovascular system
• Musculoskeletal system
• Urinary tract
Estrogen levels can be determined by a blood test. While it can vary from person to person, these are what’s considered the normal ranges in picograms per milliliter (pg/mL) :
• Adult female, premenopausal: 15-350 pg/mL
• Adult female, postmenopausal: <10 pg/mL
• Adult male: 10-40 pg/mL
Levels will vary greatly throughout the menstrual cycle.
The ovaries, adrenal glands, and placenta produce the hormone progesterone. Progesterone levels increase during ovulation and spike during pregnancy.
Progesterone helps stabilize menstrual cycles and prepares the body for pregnancy. Having a low level of progesterone can lead to irregular periods, difficulty conceiving, and a higher risk of complications during pregnancy.
Although testosterone is the main sex hormone in males, it is also present in lower amounts in females.
In females, testosterone affects :
• Sexual desire
• Tissue and bone mass
• Red blood cell production
Roles your hormones play
Females typically enter puberty between the ages of 8 and 13 years, and puberty usually ends when they are around 14 years old.
During puberty, the pituitary gland starts producing larger quantities of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the production of estrogen and progesterone.
Increased levels of estrogen and progesterone initiate the development of secondary sexual characteristics, which include :
• Breast development
• Hair growth on the underarms, legs, and pubic region
• Increased height
• Increased fat storage on the hips, buttocks, and thighs
• Widening of the pelvis and hips
• Increased oil production in the skin
Hormonal imbalance can sometimes be a sign of something more serious, such as :
• Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) – This is the most common endocrine disorder among young females. PCOS can cause irregular menstrual cycles and interfere with fertility.
• Androgen excess – This an overproduction of male hormones. This can cause menstrual irregularities, infertility, acne, and male pattern baldness.
• Hirsutism – Hirsutism is an increase in hair growth on the face, chest, abdomen, and back. It’s caused by excessive male hormones and can sometimes be a symptom of PCOS.
Other underlying conditions include :
• Hypogonadism, which is a shortage of female hormones
• A miscarriage or abnormal pregnancy
• A multiple pregnancy (having twins, triplets, or more)
• Ovarian tumor
You should always see gynecologist once a year for a routine wellness exam. Your doctor can discuss these changes and answer any other questions you may have.
Don’t wait until your annual exam if you’re experiencing unusual symptoms. See your doctor as soon as you can if you’re experiencing :
• Morning sickness or other signs of pregnancy
• Decreased sexual desire
• Vaginal dryness or pain during sex
• Skipped periods or increasingly irregular cycles
• Difficulty conceiving
• Pelvic pain
• Hair loss or hair growth on your face or trunk
• Depression after giving birth
• Prolonged menopause symptoms that interfere with your life
Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone all affect sexual desire and arousal. Having higher levels of estrogen in the body promotes vaginal lubrication and increases sexual desire.
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